The day of Pentecost had come. A rushing wind filled the place where the people had gathered, and tongues of fire descended.
Simon Peter addressed the crowd that gathered ‘round and explained what had happened as the fulfillment of a prophecy from the book of Joel:
“It shall be in the last days,” God says, “that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind … and I will display wonders in the sky above and signs on the earth below, blood, fire, and vapor of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the great and glorious day of the LORD comes.” (Acts 2:17-20 NASB)
There you have it. Acts 2. Another Old Testament prophecy fulfilled!
Or is it?
Did the marvelous Pentecost experience described in Acts 2 fulfill Joel’s prophecy? God poured out his Spirit, sure. But did he pour it out on all mankind? That’s a hard no. Wonders in the sky and on the earth? Sun turning dark? Moon turning to blood? Those things didn’t happen either, and we don’t expect them until the second coming.
A close look at Bible prophecy reveals that whatever happened on Pentecost in Acts 2 didn’t fulfill the prophecies. For example, consider Jeremiah and Ezekiel:
I will put My law within them and write it on their heart; … for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. (Jeremiah 31:33-34 NASB)
I will put My Spirit within you and bring it about that you walk in My statutes, and are careful and follow My ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:27 NASB)
These are prophecies about the final redemption and the Messianic Era. They describe things that are going to happen after Yeshua returns. According to these prophecies, God will put his Spirit within his people, which looks like him putting his law within us. It’s pretty clear that we aren’t there yet. Plenty of God’s people live in ignorance of his law and disobedience to his commandments—some notoriously so. The more prophecies we look at about the Spirit’s role in the Messianic Era, the lower Peter’s batting average gets. Most of this stuff just didn’t happen at Pentecost in Acts 2.
Did Peter jump the gun a little bit? Or have we not picked up what Peter laid down?
Frustrated theologians have spent millennia trying to explain what’s going on here. Many of them have concluded that the Old Testament prophecies of a future Messianic Era should not be taken literally. They explain that the “birth of the church” in Acts 2 “replaced” or constituted a “spiritual fulfillment” of end-times prophecy. This view damages the integrity of the Old Testament prophets. We can do better than that.
The Spirit in the Temple
Let’s take a look at another Old Testament prophecy about the coming of the Holy Spirit in the Messianic Era. This one is about the Dwelling Presence of God’s Spirit in the Temple.
The Temple is called “God’s house,” the place where God dwelt among his people. God’s Dwelling Presence manifested as a cloud of glory and filled the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34). The same Dwelling Presence of God filled the Temple in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 5:13-14). That’s why the destruction of the Temple was such a devastating blow to Israel.
The Prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of God’s Dwelling Presence leaving the Temple before the Babylonians destroyed the city. It was a national tragedy. Imagine the heartbreak of realizing that God is abandoning his house and leaving your neighborhood. However, Ezekiel also saw a vision of God’s Dwelling Presence returning to a future rebuilt Temple:
The glory of the LORD entered the house by way of the gate facing east. And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner courtyard; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the house. (Ezekiel 43:4-5 NASB)
That’s why the Jewish people returning from exile were so eager to rebuild the Temple in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. Curiously, the rabbis say that the Dwelling Presence of God never entered the Second Temple as Ezekiel had predicted. Neither was there an ark of the covenant in the holy of holies. This means that in the New Testament Era, the holy of holies lacked the same manifest Dwelling Presence of God’s Spirit that had been present in the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple. So what happened to Ezekiel’s vision? Did his prophecy go unfulfilled?
Filling the Entire House
Ezekiel’s vision of the return of the Dwelling Presence uses the same language that we find in Acts 2, in which the rushing wind “filled the whole house.” “Wind” and “spirit” come from the same word in both Hebrew and New Testament Greek. Read Ezekiel’s vision this way: “The Wind lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the house.” What does it say in Acts 2? “There came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house” (Acts 2:2).
In Acts 2, the Spirit did not enter the holy of holies of the Temple; instead, the Dwelling Presence took up residence upon the disciples of Yeshua. They became, in some sense, a Temple, a dwelling place for the Spirit of God. Paul made this explicit:
The whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:21-22)
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)
This idea came from Yeshua himself, who equated his own body with the Temple: “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). He compared his body to the Temple in which the Dwelling Presence of God took up residence because he was the “Word made flesh,” and to him God gave “the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34). In his absence his disciples stood in for his physical presence on earth, becoming “his body,” so to speak. As such, they became a dwelling place for God’s Spirit as well.
A Down Payment
Even knowing this, however, haven’t we just located one more end-times prophecy that was almost-but-not-quite fulfilled? For Ezekiel’s vision to become a reality, a literal and physical Temple must exist in Jerusalem and become filled with the Dwelling Presence of God. That prophecy belongs to the future—the end of days and the Messianic Era. We still haven’t discovered how the event in Acts 2 can be considered a fulfillment of these prophetic promises.
The answer is that they aren’t a fulfillment; they are a down payment. That’s why Paul describes the endowment of the Holy Spirit as “a guarantee”:
It is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)
A Guarantee of What?
He said the same thing to the Ephesians:
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)
What is a guarantee? Think of it as a pledge—down payment or some collateral held to ensure the payment of a loan or debt. Someone who has given up such a pledge has done so to verify their sincere intention to pay the debt in full.
Token of the Future
Through the Old Testament prophets, God made sweeping promises about the future Messianic Era on earth that will come after the final redemption. That future era is called “the kingdom of heaven.” One of the big promises of the Messianic Era is that God will pour out his Spirit on all flesh:
It shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. (Joel 2:28-29)
When the Messiah returns, he will elevate humanity to a new level of universal spiritual revelation. The prophets say, “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). God will write his law on human hearts and put his Spirit within human beings, turning us away from sin and toward obedience. Not only that, but his presence will take up residence in his house in Jerusalem again, and all nations will worship him there along with the Jewish people. It’s going to be a totally different world.
We aren’t there yet—and we certainly weren’t there yet on the day of Pentecost two thousand years ago. Peter didn’t say that we were. He meant that the Spirit poured out on the disciples was a first installment on the payment of the full amount. It was a token of the future fulfillment of Bible prophecy when God’s Spirit would again dwell in his house in Jerusalem and simultaneously rest upon all human beings—uniting the human race as a spiritual dwelling for God on earth.
The Great Inheritance
Think of the prophecies about the Messianic Era as a debt that God has incurred. This debt remains outstanding. We have, however, received a down payment. God has given us his Spirit as a pledge, as collateral, to indicate his guarantee that the rest is yet to come.
I’ll illustrate the idea with a story. A certain young man’s parents died and left him a great deal of money. The money, however, was locked up in a trust until he turned twenty-five years old. Now, he was only eighteen or so. He knew that a vast sum of money would one day be his without reservation, but temporarily he could not access it. Nevertheless, the trust did give him a stipend to meet his basic living expenses. If he ever had an urgent and legitimate need, such as a medical bill, or even had to purchase a car or pay for college tuition, he could apply to the administrators of the trust, and they would issue him the money, so long as they approved of the expenditure.
Disciples of Yeshua have a vast inheritance waiting for us in the future: the final redemption, the outpouring of the Spirit on all human beings, the return of the Dwelling Presence of God to his holy house, and the universal spiritual enlightenment of the Messianic Era. We cannot have it all just yet. Nevertheless, as a sort of down payment on the full sum, we receive what we need for the present. In some cases, at some moments of extraordinary need, we receive an extra portion. This is not the whole amount, but it is sufficient, and most importantly, it proves the existence of the whole amount that we are yet to receive. In the Messianic Era, we will come into the full inheritance. In this current age, we have only a pledge, a guarantee.
God poured out the Spirit on Yeshua’s disciples in Acts 2 as a down payment and a surety that the rest is yet to come. This is why Simon Peter was able to declare confidently,
This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh.” (Acts 2:16)